Nitrogen Fixing Plants For The Homestead

247

On Today’s Podcast Episode, Harold and Rachel Discuss Nitrogen Fixing Plants. How Do They Work, What They Are, and How Best To Incorporate Them Into Your Homestead.

The Modern Homesteading Podcast, Episode 247 – July 6, 2024

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Permaculture gardening is a great way to improve sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystems. One of the key strategies to achieve this is by incorporating nitrogen-fixing plants. 

These plants can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that is usable by plants, thus enriching the soil naturally.

What are Nitrogen-Fixing Plants?

Nitrogen-fixing plants have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria known as rhizobia, which live in their root nodules. These bacteria take nitrogen from the air and convert it into ammonia, a form that plants can absorb and use. 

This process enriches the soil with nitrogen, reducing or even eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Why Use Nitrogen-Fixing Plants in Permaculture?

  • Soil Fertility: These plants improve soil fertility naturally, enhancing the growth of other plants.
  • Biodiversity: They support a diverse range of beneficial microorganisms and insects.
  • Sustainability: Reducing the need for chemical fertilizers makes your garden more sustainable.

Best Nitrogen-Fixing Plants for Permaculture Gardens

Trees

  • Black Locust: Most of the continental U.S.  
  • Autumn Olive: Eastern, Northeast, Midwest U.S.
  • Mimosa: Southern U.S.
  • Alder: Northwest U.S.
  • Mesquite: Southwest U.S

Shrubs

  • Siberian Pea Shrub: Northern Plains to Northwest U.S.
  • Sea Buckthorn: Likes Northern Zones but hardy and can grow in most of the continental U.S.
  • Goumi: Most of Continental U.S.
  • Wisteria:

Herbaceous Plants

  • Red Clover: Clover is a common cover crop that fixes nitrogen and prevents weed growth.
  • Vetch: Often used as a cover crop, vetch improves soil structure and fertility.
  • Lupine: Lupines are beautiful flowering plants that enrich the soil with nitrogen.
  • Fenugreek: This is a beautiful yellow flowered plant that has seeds you can sprout and that are medicinal. You can put the plant back into the soil as well. 

Ground Covers

  • White Clover: This low-growing plant is excellent for ground cover, enriching the soil while suppressing weeds.
  • Creeping Red Fescue: Often used in lawns and meadows, this grass improves soil health.

Legumes in the Pea and Bean FamilyThe pea and bean family (Fabaceae) is renowned for its nitrogen-fixing abilities. These plants are not only beneficial for soil health but also provide nutritious food.

  • Peas: Peas are cool-season legumes that improve soil fertility. They can be planted early in the season and harvested for their sweet, nutritious pods.
  • Beans: Beans, including common beans, runner beans, and lima beans, are excellent nitrogen fixers. They are versatile and can be grown in various climates.
  • Soybeans: Soybeans are widely grown for their high protein content and ability to enrich the soil.
  • Lentils: Lentils are hardy legumes that grow well in various conditions. They fix nitrogen and are a great source of protein.
  • Chickpeas: Chickpeas are drought-tolerant and improve soil fertility. They are a staple in many diets worldwide.

How to Incorporate Nitrogen-Fixing Plants into Your Permaculture Garden

  • Polyculture Planting: Mix nitrogen-fixing plants with other crops to create a diverse and resilient ecosystem. For example, interplant clover with vegetables or use alder as a companion tree in orchards.
  • Cover Crops: Use cover crops like clover and vetch during off-seasons to maintain soil fertility. These can be tilled into the soil as green manure.
  • Guild Planting: Create plant guilds, where nitrogen-fixing plants are a part of a group that supports each other. For instance, plant black locust near fruit trees to enhance their growth.
  • Windbreaks and Hedges: Use shrubs like Siberian pea shrub as windbreaks or living fences. These not only protect your garden but also improve soil health.
  • Rotational Planting: Rotate nitrogen-fixing crops with other plants to maintain soil fertility and reduce pest cycles.

Tips for Success

  • Select the Right Species: Choose nitrogen-fixing plants that are suited to your climate and soil conditions.
  • Proper Planting: Ensure proper planting techniques to establish a healthy root system and effective nitrogen fixation.
  • Maintenance: Prune trees and shrubs to promote growth and manage nitrogen distribution. 
  • Mulching: Mulch around nitrogen-fixing plants to retain moisture and improve soil structure.

Recommendations

Rachel – 

Harold – 

  • The Living Soil Handbook by Jesse Frost  – https://amzn.to/3W5CFjX  deals primarily in crop rotation for market gardens, chapter 7
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set) by Dave Jacke – https://amzn.to/3XvzvqG  – Chapter 5 of volume 1 but referred to and applied in practice throughout both volumes.

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Authors

  • User Avatar

    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

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  • Rachel Jamison

    An aspiring permaculturist and urban homesteader who loves to teach and inspire others to grow where they are planted.

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